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Collections of the Mining Museum. Iron Casting

Joint project of St.-Petersburg Mining museum and Forpost Nord-West.
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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

In the second half of the 19th century, art iron casting became the trademark of the Urals and gained wide recognition around the world. The real triumph of products of the Ural masters occurred at the world exhibition in Paris. Products of the famous Kaslin plant were presented in a chiseled pavilion of cast iron in the Byzantine style and received a “Grand Prix” gold medal, the top award of the time.

The Mining Museum has exhibits, whose filigree work was once admired by the jury of the famous exhibition. Among them are "Flora" candelabra, sculptures “Mercury”, “Zubr”, “Fox Capuchins”, “Jeanne D'Arc” and “A Dish in Russian Style”.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

The collection of art iron casting here is one of the most complete and interesting in its composition among domestic collections. It includes 125 exhibits made in the 19th – 20th centuries at the famous Russian foundries.

You can also see the works of NizhnyTagil, Satka, Gusev and Sintul plants, a collection of cast iron furniture of Kusinsky plant, which nowhere else in the world has been preserved in such a full set.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад /

At first glance, it is hard to believe that these products are made of such a rough and hard material as cast iron. In the 21st century, to master such a technique of production and at least somehow approach the skills of the legendary Russian masters, one has to devote at least 15 years to training.

Ural iron casting appeared quite routinely, as a derivative of the smelting of weapons. During the reign of Peter the Great, when the country's need for metal intensified in view of numerous wars, the Urals became the main industrial center of Russia. More than 70 metallurgical enterprises were founded to develop the ores-rich lands. In addition to the production of industrial pig iron, these plants produced various items for the needs of the local population. Those were floor tiles, gravestones and memorial plates, ashtrays and plates. These items gave the initial impetus to the development of artistic Ural casting.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

Among other factories producing artistic castings from cast iron, was the world-famous Kaslinsky plant, founded in the mid-18th century by Tula merchant Jacob Korobkov as metallurgic and iron foundry. And although the company began to produce cast iron products later than others, their fame immediately spread, and their popularity among the local population was much higher.

This demand was explained by the set of secrets of production. First, the plant used a special brand of cast iron. After all, a lot depended on the latter in the production of artistic products. Thus, the alloy had to identify all the details of the form in which it was poured, be liquid and do contain only low amount of impurities. Secondly, an important role played the sand, which was part of the mixtures from which were made the shapes of future products. Suitable for these needs fine sand was extracted next to the production at the quarry near the town of Kaslya. The material was notable for its ability to reproduce the most complex artistic design and to withstand high temperatures. The latter property was particularly essential, because following the old technology, the future product was made of wax, covered with sand mixture, and baked in the furnace.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

The peculiarity of artistic casting of this plant is also in the realism of products, image detail, their plasticity, sharpness of silhouettes and unusual black color, which gives a special depth to the work and allows considering objects even at a considerable distance. This color was achieved due to the paint made by a special recipe. It was called Dutch soot, but the pigment had nothing to do with Holland. At the modern Kaslin factory, the secret of the paint composition is kept in the strictest confidence, just as it was two hundred years ago. However, in the 21st century, not only the factory uses ancient recipes, but the whole work is still done manually. Masters at the stages of creation of the product do not even use gloves, because in this case you cannot feel the material and, for example, it is not enough to stamp the sand or poorly recon the pressure when chasing. It is interesting that the Urals casting is considered to be an original Russian craft, although originally the iron factories invited masters from abroad, who shared their experience with colleagues. At the Kaslinsky plant, for example, German castings brought from Berlin were used as the first samples. Russian founders, engravers and chiselers gradually mastered the intricacies of the craft, brought their technical features into the process, and gradually became top-class professionals. At the Kaslya factory, there was even an art school, where experienced instructors taught apprentices how to draw, sculpt, mold and chase.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей

The Kaslya Plant was not the only that could rightfully boast of the high-quality castings. In the first half of the 19th century, 22 more plants in the Urals were engaged in the production of artistic iron castings.

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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей
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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей
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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей
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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей
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Фото © Форпост Северо-Запад / Горный музей